October 20, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

A malaysian giant forest ant meets a juvenile grass frog deep in the rainforests of Borneo ...


The number of ants living on Earth at any one time is inconceivable. Their adults alone are thought to number 1,000,000,000,000,000 individuals; almost 150,000 times the number of humans alive today.

The malaysian giant forest ant, Campanotus gigas, is a contender for the title of largest ant on earth.  The biggest of its workers are approximately 2.5 cm in length, with their heads reaching 1 cm across. Despite these impressive statistics, almost all of the diet of this colossus among insects is made up of honeydew, a sugary secretion produced by aphids and their relatives. The giant ants nest underground, but send foraging workers out every night at dusk, when they can climb up to 80 m into the canopy to feed. So high is their feeding ground that the ants create satellite nests in the canopy to furhter protect their teriotory.

While foraging, the largest workers take part in ‘ritual’ battles when they encounter ants of the same species. Rather than allowing clashes to escalate into full-blown violence, they box with their front legs to defuse the conflict: their territories are so large, and their numbers so small, that the cost of losing ants to non-ritual battles is simply too high. Despite its formidable appearance, the giant ant is a gentle creature, unaggressive towards humans, and incapable of stinging.

The frog is a juvenile grass frog (possibly Fejervarya limnocharis), commonly found in temporary water sources such as puddles and ditches. This photo was taken in a rainforest in Sabah, Borneo, a habitat critically threatened by logging and agriculture.

PHOTOGRAPH and WORDS by Tim Cockerill.